The renovated lobby benefits from expansive views of Keauhou Bay. // © 2013 Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa
The dark mass visible from the water’s surface finally distinguished itself from the subaqueous rock formations — it began moving. I was scanning the water’s surface and tracking changes, along with about 15 others gathered on the oceanfront volcanic rocks at Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay. Manta rays were in our midst, feeding on plankton attracted to the emerald lights of a few chartered boats — an exciting prequel to dinner.
The property’s completed renovation, totaling nearly $20 million, confronted previous issues head-on by introducing enhancements that maximize the hotel’s unique characteristics, from its natural surroundings to its links with Hawaiian history. Ironically, the redone, renamed property — formerly the Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort & Spa — now better utilizes the bay and invokes a spirit of Keauhou, which translates to “the new era” in Hawaiian. Though the property provides a shuttle service to the main shops of Kailua-Kona, guests should be aware that they are staying in Keauhou and not Kona town.
At the new Rays on the Bay, guests don’t have to part from the manta rays when they are ready for dinner. The fish regularly congregate around the restaurant’s lanai, and the newbuild provides a panoramic view of the ocean, complemented by a long wraparound rum bar detailed in small incandescent stones. Additionally, the venue is serving a reimagined menu of cocktails and dishes that range from guacamame — an edamame mash dip served with taro chips — to fine entrees such as ribeye steak. The hotel’s new executive chef, Viktor Schmidt, is a testament to Rays’ aim to be a place where locals as well as hotel guests vie to spend their evenings. The nightlife spot, along with the Silversword Bar, makes this resort a great choice for more than just families, which flock to the property’s Manta Ray Super Slide & Pool and Monday night Haleo Luau Dinner & Show.
The rest of the property has also become more aesthetically sophisticated, from the open-air lobby to the spaces refashioned by Hilo-based artist and designer Sig Zane. The Sheraton Kona property is the only one of the newly renovated Sheratons in Hawaii to benefit from Zane’s interior design, providing the hotel with a distinct look. With new seating and Zane’s patterned carpeting, meeting space is anything but dreary now. The hallways are completely redone in his style — large, square canvases of Hawaiian flora prints on the walls and patterned circular rugs in the wide hallways hint at how he has dressed the guestrooms, including 10 new oceanfront suites. The renovated rooms are enlivened by new paint, flat-screen televisions and new carpeting. Natural materials, such as koa wood, patterned prints of Hawaii’s plants, geometric motifs and textured materials all work in concert to achieve a look that is simultaneously fresh and old Hawaii.
This respect for Hawaiian culture extends beyond the guestrooms. About a year ago, Lily Dudoit was promoted to the newly created position of director of cultural activities. I attended her morning Big Island orientation where I observed the passion and expertise she has for her home. Dudoit is genuinely committed to helping interested guests have the island experience they want, even if they didn’t know what that was before talking to her. She is full of insider tips such as where to get the best malasada (Portuguese donut) and how to chart the best drives across the island. In addition to breaking down Hawaii Island into an exciting and personally tailored itinerary, Dudoit — an expert on Hawaii history — has created two complimentary tours that introduce guests to the property’s unique ties to Hawaii history, including spots related to Hawaii’s longest-ruling monarch, King Kamehameha III, who was born in Keauhou Bay. The hotel has also introduced a new service called the Culture Concierge, a native Hawaiian employee who is on hand to advise guests on all matters of Hawaiian culture. Hula and lei making, services also recently introduced, have proven popular with kids as well as adults. And for guests who want to do their own exploring on the historic bay, the new Flying Fish retail store offers gear for land and watersports.
I personally enjoyed the Ho’ola Spa, where I experienced the Mana Aina Package, an outdoor lomi lomi massage followed by a facial. Spa services for brides and couples are available, which is a great complement to the improved wedding options. In addition to the wedding chapel, gazebo and surrounding gardens, the newly improved Paakai Point offers panoramic views of the ocean and sky with enough seating for a sunset dinner reception.
Couples getting married here are not the only ones who experience a new beginning — everyone at the renovated property gets to be a part of the new era.